Seattle Storm’s Svetlana Abrosimova is loving basketball again.
by Josh Flynn
Svetlana Abrosimova is not a risk-taker. Her winsome smile morphs into a slight grimace at the suggestion. “[Seattle Storm head Coach Brian Agler] started saying this before he signed me—‘She’s a risk-taker’—and everybody repeats it now,” she laughs.
Risk-taker or not, there was one area Abrosimova was unwilling to take a chance: her return to the WNBA. Absent from the 2009 season, she wasn’t walking back onto the court for just any team. On the brink of turning 30, she wanted to spend her final years as a professional athlete seeking a championship. She didn’t want to arrive to training camp and hear a coach say the season would be a building process. She didn’t want to hear about youth, an inexperienced hunger to win.
“I’m at the point where I don’t want to just be part of some team and get on the floor. I want to win. Winning a championship is very important for me,” she says.
If you are looking for a championship doesn’t it make sense to seek out players you’ve won a trophy with? For Abrosimova, it made all the sense in the world. That’s why she eyed the Seattle Storm.
In 2000, the Russian forward won a national championship with Seattle’s Sue Bird and Swin Cash at the University of Connecticut. Storm head coach Brian Agler drafted her into the WNBA in 2001. “I think that was the main reason I came back to the league,” she says. “I wanted to come back to a team where I was very familiar with the players and with the coach.”
It was a smart choice. Seattle currently sits atop the league with a 10-2 record. They’ve been dominating teams, winning by 9.6 ppg. Abrosimova has been a key contributor off the bench, seeing significant minutes and averaging 6.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg, and providing a steal and an assist a game.
“Defensively I do want to create some things and sometimes I do take risks and it doesn’t help the team’s defense,” she admits. “But that’s who I am. I see a lot of things evolving in front of me. I do take risks sometimes. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But [Agler] knows that. I’m working on being more efficient.”
For Abrosimova, her introduction to the sport came when she was a child during the waning years of the Soviet Union. She knew nothing about the game, had never heard of it. But one day a basketball coach came into her school looking for tall girls. “They told my parents ‘we want you to bring your daughter to the basketball section.’ My parents were not really comfortable with this because [the coaches] were like ‘take your daughter to this address at this time’,” she remembers. “I was seven years old. I was a little scared because I didn’t know what to expect. But when I got there I guess all my competitive instincts opened up and I loved it.”
Her basketball talents brought her to America, specifically to the women’s basketball powerhouse Connecticut. She knew no one, had not even met her coach, Geno Auriemma. Auriemma immediately hounded her in practice none-the-less. In class, she took notes in Cyrillic and then translated them to English. It was easier for her to keep up with the lecture than to parse out foreign spellings. On the court she became a scoring threat and a star. But in 2001, during her senior season, Abrosimova tore a ligament in her left foot during a game against Tennessee, ending her college career. She would watch Bird, Cash, freshmen Diana Taurasi and crew propel UConn back to the Final Four. However, a determined Notre Dame club halted their repeat attempt—the only blotch in a five-year span that saw four UConn championships.
Eighteen days after the college basketball season ended, the Minnesota Lynx chose Abrosimova with the seventh pick in the 2001 WNBA draft. She never experienced the highs she enjoyed at UConn in Minnesota, despite playing with high caliber teammates such as Katie Smith, Teresa Edwards, and UConn teammate Tamika Williams. The team put together winning seasons in 2003 and 2004 but never advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs. Abrosimova continued to play overseas as well and in 2008 won a bronze medal with the Russian national team at the Beijing Olympics. She sat out the majority of the WNBA season to train with her countrywomen and when she returned she signed with the Connecticut Sun.
By the time the 2009 WNBA season came around basketball had become too much for Abrosimova. She was mentally exhausted and could no longer even bear watching sports news on TV. “This was my passion and it felt like it was just another day in the office,” she says. “I don’t have that many years left in me and I want to enjoy this. So for me it was the best decision to take the summer off and I felt great.”
The great feeling continues today, building with each Storm victory. The key to the team’s success is they win games, Abrosimova says, smiling. “We’re just playing great together. The starting line up is amazing. We’re efficient—not many turnovers. We’re rebounding the ball well. It’s just one of those stretches in time when everything is working. You don’t want to mess it up. Everything is going the right direction.”
How far that direction extends, Abrosimova doesn’t know. But she loves basketball again and she’s intent on winning, positive she’s found the right team to help achieve championship glory. “Unfortunately, they were getting hurt the last couple of years and that’s what kept them from winning,” she says. “But those things are uncontrollable. The things they can control they do excellent. And I want to be a part of it.”